Deep within me, there’s a longing to be a superhero. I think it’s the same with many of us, which helps explain the popularity of the MCU, shounen anime, and Star Wars. And for me, this feeling extends not only to the traditional idea of physically saving people, but to other aspects of life, like faith, where Christians like myself want to participate in the work of spiritual salvation. I want to be like missionaries past and present (and most of all like Christ), facing down certain death if it comes down to it and saying, “even so,” I won’t deny my faith. As a new believer during my college years, I especially expressed that kind of passion. I asked God to send me to the far-flung places of the globe, maybe to locales where I would be in danger.
I spoke to a noona about missions once, knowing her to be someone very strong in faith, and she brought up a concern she was struggling with at the time. Though she felt she would be able to give up her life for God if necessary, she wondered about being in a situation where she would be forced to give someone else’s life up for God. That, she admitted, she wouldn’t be able to do.
I’ve thought about that conversation often over the years since, but having stayed put instead of going abroad (in fact, residing in the very same city—so much for a faith that would send me across the world!), I haven’t been able to really wrap my head around the idea my friend explained to me. When would I need to sacrifice another for the faith? How could that happen? It wasn’t until I read a couple of wonderful works, one Christian-oriented and the other about a different, fictional kind of spirituality, that I really understood what she meant.
The Legends of Luke Skwalker: The Manga captures the character of Luke at the end of the original trilogy and in the years before the newest one in a collection of stories that might be “legends,” but seem rather like they did occur in the Star Wars universe. My favorite among the tales is the last one, “Big Inside,” where Luke and a young traveler find themselves trapped within an exogorth. But to their surprise, there are incredible structures built within the beast, culminating in a clearing with three beautiful statues. When Luke touches one, he discovers the truth: The statues are of three Master Weavers of the Luminous Mist, and they are alive, having cocooned themselves in time using their abilities (think of a more beautiful, mystical carbon freezing). The three beings found themselves trapped in the exogorth and have lived a near-eternity since, and in doing so have discovered a way out. Luke only needs to free them with his lightsaber. But when he does so, only Luke and his companion will be freed; the weavers will die.
What a painful thing, to let someone else die in your place. Luke, who has remained optimistic this entire time, is brought to his knees in emotional agony. His companion, who has grown to trust Luke, understands his pain: “It’s one thing to sacrifice yourself for something you believe in. But the burden of accepting someone else’s sacrifice was unbearable.”
The choice here reminded me of one of my favorite novels, Shusaku Endo’s Silence, which was adapted into a film several years ago by Martin Scorsese. Although also fictional, it was based on real historical figures and true accounts, which is part of the reason that I found it to be the most terrifying novel I’d read. It describes the systematic torture and persecution of Japanese Christians. In an effort to stomp out the faith, the chief executioner’s primary method is to force Jesuit missionaries to apostatize, a work that seems impossible to Rodrigues, a missionary and the main character, one who starts the novel proud of his faith until he sees the means by which apostasy occurs: It won’t be through torture to him that he’ll renounce his faith, but by torturing and executing the Japanese Christians that he has come to love.
Silence shook me to my core not only because of its question about where God is in the silence, but also because I realized that I would in that instance probably choose to step on the fumi-e, officially rejecting my faith, and be done with it. In considering the situation, my pride was shaken, but my faith was surprisingly deepened as I considered how complicated faith is, and how sinful a creature is man.
The choice made by Luke in the manga is less heartrending but also challenging. He does choose to in effect kill the Master Weavers based on his memory of Obi-Wan. His mentor, of course, also chose to sacrifice himself to help others become stronger and free. He remembers, “He knew it was time to let go. He trusted the force. It was a lesson I still have a hard time accepting.”
Though Luke’s religion is far different than the Christian one, the challenge he’s working through is just the same as for us. We deepen our faith not by marching straight ahead with misguided pride like Rodrigues or a surface-level optimism like Luke, but by being challenged, sometimes through painful sacrifices by others, sometimes in the most horrible of circumstances, and dealing with our shortcomings as we do so. And even should we fail, we can still put up our hands and reach to the heavens knowing this: even so, there is grace for us, for he, too, made the sacrifice. He offered his all so that this wretched man might live.
BENEATH THE TANGLES RECOMMENDS SILENCE AND THE LEGENDS OF LUKE SKYWALKER: THE MANGA.